Sheriff Joe Arpaio, courtesy USA Today
PHOENIX -- The words and actions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio are vital in determining whether the Sheriff's Office has a systemic problem with profiling Hispanic residents.
But as testimony Tuesday in U.S. District Court revealed, there are two Joe Arpaios -- the politician and the policy maker -- and there are questions as to which Arpaio is responsible for setting priorities for illegal-immigration enforcement.
The judge presiding over the racial-profiling lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office set strict time limits -- 20 hours per side -- for attorneys to make their cases when the bench trial began last week, leaving it up to each to determine how to use that time.
The 3 1/2 hours Arpaio spent on the stand Tuesday under questioning from the plaintiffs' attorney -- nearly 20 percent of their allotted time -- demonstrated the importance of Arpaio's statements to their case.
The attorney walked Arpaio through letters he'd received from constituents and statements he has made in print and in public that paint the Sheriff's Office as an organization in which the lines between racial insensitivity and racial discrimination are constantly blurred.
Arpaio frequently responded with one-word answers, sometimes acknowledging that the statements in question were his.
Arpaio's attorney used his time to allow the sheriff to elaborate on the statements. Arpaio told him that he frequently acts as a conduit for information from the public to his command staffers and that he generally leaves enforcement decisions to them, particularly concerning when and where immigration sweeps occur.
The case alleges that the sheriff's illegal-immigration-enforcement priorities have resulted in discrimination against Latino residents. Over the past six years, Arpaio has made immigration enforcement his trademark, but those efforts have also been met by accusations -- by citizens, activists and the U.S. Justice Department -- that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination.
As Arpaio testified in court, dozens of opponents protested outside, and four were arrested for blocking traffic. The four are undocumented immigrants from Mexico who came to the U.S. with their families, according to Tania Unzueta of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which helped organize the protest.
Police said each will likely face a misdemeanor charge of failure to obey law enforcement's orders.
The illegal-immigration topic and allegations of racial profiling lodged against Arpaio have generated financial support for the sheriff that is unprecedented among county candidates and landed him dozens of interviews with national news outlets.
Stanley Young, an attorney working with the American Civil Liberties Union and representing the plaintiffs, tried to use against the sheriff his own words from many of those interviews, hoping to illustrate that the politician and the policy maker in Arpaio seemed to come together when he decided to embark on illegal-immigration enforcement in the middle of the past decade.
Too often, Young told the court, the law-enforcement policy maker has taken a backseat to the politician intent on promoting his own agenda.
Young highlighted letters from constituents complaining about Spanish-speaking workers in fast-food restaurants that landed on the sheriff's desk before the Sheriff's Office launched immigration sweeps in those areas. It was an effort to prove that Arpaio, in being a responsive politician, was acting irresponsibly by launching law-enforcement initiatives without evidence that a crime had been committed.
Young used quotes from Arpaio's autobiography to try to show the sheriff believes Mexican immigrants do not leave their native culture behind in order to assimilate like other groups of immigrants. And Young used a racist e-mail circulated by some of Arpaio's deputies to try to prove there is little regard for racial sensitivity -- and even less to fear for making racist remarks -- in the Sheriff's Office.
"Which is the truth: What you say here in court, or what you say in your book?" Young asked.
Responded Arpaio: "Sometimes, when you're talking to national television, it's much different than when you're testifying. ... To the best of my recollection, I'm testifying to what I remember, here in court."
Arpaio did not suffer from the faulty memory that plagued him during last year's disciplinary hearings for former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, though the sheriff, as he did in the Thomas hearings, said he was suffering a touch of the flu on the stand.
Instead, Arpaio consistently deflected Young's questions about the impact questionable constituent letters have on the sheriff's immigration sweeps. Arpaio repeatedly said he delegates those decisions.
Similarly, Arpaio said some of the questionable material in his autobiography was written by a co-author, leaving the sheriff unable to explain some of his own statements. And the press releases from the Sheriff's Office, such as one that touted Arpaio's decision to focus enforcement on day laborers, are courtesy of the sheriff's media-relations unit, Arpaio explained. The headlines do not necessarily reflect the agency's enforcement priorities, he said.
Arpaio attorney Tim Casey allowed the sheriff to explain many of the issues Young raised, with Arpaio repeatedly saying that he never ordered immigration sweeps in particular areas of the Valley based on constituent complaints. He said he instead relied on the expertise of commanders in the human-smuggling unit.
Some of the constituent complaints about Spanish-speaking workers or day laborers were received after immigration sweeps took place in their communities, Casey pointed out, and others were received more than a year in advance of Arpaio's saturation patrols. Sheriff's officials have consistently said that none of the questionable complaints unearthed from the "immigration file" Arpaio maintains played a direct role in influencing enforcement activities.
"We have our normal duties in law enforcement, but sometimes (if) I think that something's important, I establish a policy to concentrate on certain issues," Arpaio said, explaining how he establishes enforcement priorities, such as on illegal immigration.
"I listen to my staff and get their input, and when I establish the policy, I expect them to carry it out and do it in a very professional manner," he said. "I establish priorities and policies, and my people carry it out. They do a little research and educate themselves on the policies I want to conduct. We don't just take it out of the sky. So, I use my staff to study the situation, and we go forward."
Young and the plaintiffs contend that the sheriff's illegal-immigration-enforcement efforts are in part driven by a strategy that connects being Mexican and being day laborers with being illegal immigrants and uses reports of day-labor activity -- which is not illegal -- to justify immigration raids.
Many of the constituent letters Young cited requested the sheriff's presence in Valley communities after residents there complained of feeling harassed or intimidated by gatherings of Hispanic men.
One in particular, from a woman in Queen Creek, asked Arpaio to increase deputies' presence in the southeast Valley community after a group of Hispanic men "jeered" at her and whistled at teenage girls.
"There is no crime described in this e-mail chain, is that right?" Young asked Arpaio. After a brief exchange, Arpaio said he would be unable to tell if there were a crime unless someone investigated it.
Earlier Tuesday, one of Arpaio's deputies took the stand, with U.S. District Judge Murray Snow asking pointed questions about the training the deputy received in enforcing Arizona's human-smuggling law and federal immigration statutes. Snow also wanted to know what led Deputy Louis DiPietro to conclude that most day laborers are undocumented immigrants.
DiPietro said he formed that opinion based on a stop he made near Cave Creek nearly five years ago.
"The fact that that type of work doesn't require any type of ... ID" makes it more attractive to people who are in the country illegally, "because they wouldn't have the proper paperwork for other types of employment," DiPietro testified.
With no jury in the case, Snow will decide whether the Sheriff's Office participated in racial profiling. The case is unrelated to a U.S. Justice Department civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year, though its outcome could affect the Justice Department case.
The plaintiffs want the kind of injunctive relief that the Sheriff's Office has resisted in the past: A declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects and a court-appointed monitor to make sure the agency lives by those rules.